Artists and art teachers have the convenience of buying clay in bulk, but Parsons High School art teacher Kelsey Fabrycky wants to teach her students how to get clay directly from the source – the very ground they walk on.
“I’ve been inspired to do this for about four years now. I took a class from this guy. His name was Andy Ward. It was just an online class. I wouldn’t say he is a master, but he has spent a lot of his life researching and building pots in the primitive kind of way,” she said. “He always goes out and collects his own clay. He always does above ground firings, so it really kind of inspired me, after seeing what he did, to do it myself.
“I did it a couple of times on my own, and now I have brought it to my students. I thought it would be a neat process for them to learn.”
She took her students to Marvel Park along the creek last week to let them search for clay.
“Pretty much all of Kansas, in this area, is clay. One thing we learned in the class is how to find clay and the different ways to test to see if the clay is good or not. Right now, it is really dry outside, so if you walk out and see cracks in the ground, that’s a really good sign there is clay there,” she said.
Another way to detect if the soil is clay soil is if you see hoof prints or other animal prints, that have held their shape when the dry out. Students used shovels and dug soil, then went into the creek to test their clay they found, by getting it wet and balling it up and seeing if it would hold its shape.
Some of the students tried to dig in the creek bed for clay, but quickly found it was not a good place to harvest from, as there were too many rocks. They discovered the bank was a much better place to harvest from.
After collecting the clay in 5-gallon buckets, the students took them back to the classroom for the clay to be processed. Fabrycky said, once harvested, the clay first must be cleaned of sticks and other objects.
“We fill the bucket up with water and we let it sit for 24 hours to kind of break down the clay, then we use nets, and we pour the water through, and it catches all the sticks and gunk,” she said. “Then we let it sit for a day and the clay settles to the bottom and we pour off the extra water."
"After that you can go a couple of different ways. Some people put it in pillowcases and let all the water drain out. I put it in a casserole dish and put it in my oven for a little bit and get it to the right temperature. Then we can store it or use it. We’re just going to use it right away. Clay, as it ages, gets better, but we’re just going to use it right away,” Fabrycky explained. “I’m going to have to add a little bit of sand back into it. It’s called temper. It just makes the clay stronger. We’re going to do the above ground firing and that shock from the heat will cause the clay to expand and contract, and the sand in there will help it from expanding and contracting too much.”
The students will be making their pots this week and next. They will probably fire them in mid-September. Fabrycky said she plans to add in a little additional fun for the students.
“We will be roasting marshmallows and doing that kind of fun stuff. We may even try to bake some pizzas on it, too,” Fabrycky said. “We’ll see what happens.”